With the Spring Game set for this weekend, keep an eye on players at these three positions.
Rising senior Joshua Nesbitt—who is sitting out the spring after offseason ankle surgery—is the undisputed starter at quarterback, but with the transfer of former backup Jaybo Shaw, the battle for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart has become a key storyline in spring practice.
“It’s been open competition. We haven’t designated anybody as anything,” said quarterbacks coach Brian Bohannon.
Of the three leading candidates, redshirt sophomore Tevin Washington is the only one with game experience to date, and his experience consists of one drive in Tech’s 2009 season opener against Jacksonville State. Still, Washington has shown a good grasp of the offense as he enters his third year under Head Coach Paul Johnson’s system, and his abilities as a passer and runner make him an ideal fit for the offense.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Luallen has demonstrated the best pure passing abilities of the three, regularly making strong and accurate throws. Still, he also has a strong tendency to make mistakes through the air and has not been very effective as a runner.
“There’s times that [Luallen] shows some glimpses of what I know he can do, and there’s times he’s all over the place,” said Bohannon. “He just has to work on some things fundamentally…but he’s got the ability to throw the ball.”
The last of the candidates, redshirt freshman David Sims, may be the most athletic of the trio. Sims resembles Nesbitt most closely in terms of size and skill set; at 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, he is better built to handle a heavy workload on the ground. Still, he has struggled in the passing game this spring.
When two-year B-back starter Jonathan Dwyer declared for the NFL Draft, the Jackets lost one of their most reliable and talented running backs. In the aftermath, though, Tech may actually be stronger overall at the position in 2010 thanks to much greater depth.
Redshirt senior Anthony Allen will start for the first-string offense on Saturday. Allen shifted to A-back last season to accommodate for Dwyer’s presence, but now he will take over the feature role at B-back.
At 230 pounds, Allen has ideal size for the position and has demonstrated plenty of athleticism. He led Tech’s A-back corps in rushing last season, recording 626 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 9.7 yards per carry.
“[Allen] was a B-back when he started…I think it’s more natural for him,” said Bohannon, who also coaches the B-backs.
Senior Lucas Cox should see plenty of carries. The 232-pound bruiser has had a strong spring at his more natural position and will be a key reserve behind Allen. Redshirt sophomore Richard Watson will also be in the mix for carries.
The wild card will be true freshman Charles Perkins, who enrolled at Tech this spring. Perkins has shown promise and could see time at A-back or B-back.
“I think Charles has got a great future here. He’s just learning how things work right now,” Bohannon said.
Redshirt junior Preston Lyons, the primary backup to Dwyer last season, is sitting out the spring with an injury. Still, all five have shown the ability to play and play well, and all should be factors in Tech’s backfield this season.
“Competitiveness is the best driver, so it’s definitely helping us all get better,” Cox said.
If spring practice is any indication, the Jackets’ defensive players have taken well to the 3-4 scheme introduced by new defensive coordinator Al Groh. The front seven has had a strong showing, causing plenty of disruption during contact drills and forcing mistakes and turnovers.
Surprisingly, one of the strongest units has been the outside linebackers. Most of Tech’s often-used linebackers from last season are inside linebackers now, leaving backups and converted defensive ends to handle the primary pass rush positions. As a result, the performance of the new OLBs has been a pleasant surprise for Tech.
Redshirt senior A.T. Barnes says the transition has gone well for the defense.
“There’s nothing hard about [the 3-4]…The biggest thing is that we have to talk more and communicate with each other. We’re doing that better, so the defense is [getting] better each day,” Barnes said.
Barnes—a reserve for the past three years—has earned most of the first-team reps at weakside linebacker and has had a stellar spring, doing well both at stopping the run and rushing the passer.
“I’m a big linebacker, so this fits me perfectly…I feel like I’ll be able to help the defense out a lot,” Barnes said.
The leader at strongside linebacker is fellow redshirt senior Anthony Egbuniwe, who spent much of last season starting at defensive end. Like Barnes, Egbuniwe’s size likely makes him a better fit at 3-4 outside linebacker than at his previous position.
The second-stringers at each OLB position are in the same mold. Redshirt sophomore Malcolm Munroe will play the weakside position, while redshirt senior Osahon Tongo will man the strongside spot.